Lately I’ve been spending a bit of time on Wattpad, and if you haven’t heard of Wattpad, it’s an interesting idea: a social network for writers of all skill levels. You can post stories in progress there, get comments and suggestions, vote for favorite stories, and so on.
One thing I’ve noticed on Wattpad is that every once in a while a conversation will come up in the public forums. The gist of the conversation is that someone has published their book, and they can’t seem to sell any copies. “What’s wrong?” they ask of the Wattpad populace. Typically, people will chime in with all kinds of helpful tips: fix your cover, lower your price, get an editor, and so on. The original poster (the person suffering from low sales) will typically then either start working on making those changes, or- in certain passive aggressive cases- argue why everyone else is wrong.
But humor me for a moment. Let’s take a look at the question from a different angle. To borrow from JFK: “Ask not what you can do for your own sales, but how you can help the sales of others.” As someone who is being published by a small press, do I have an obligation to seek out and purchase books from other small press authors? Do I have an obligation to find good 99 cent self-published books? I think the answer is yes for several reasons: economic self-interest, helping (in a tiny way) to create a art scene, and- finally- it’s morally sound, or at least fair.
It makes economic sense for me to seek out books that are published like mine.
That doesn’t mean that I have to like them all, that doesn’t mean that I can’t be picky. It just means that I should take the few extra minutes of time needed to dig beneath the surface and discover books that I might have missed, and when I purchase a book from say Angry Robot Books or Greyhart Press or Mundania or half a dozen others, what I’m doing is making a small change in the market. It’s the same kind of change that happens when you go to your local hardware store instead of Lowes, or when you dump your local cable giant in favor of a smaller company and being a small-press writer, the benefit comes back to me in a general way, my few dollars make it more likely that small presses will be around to consider my work in the future.
It creates a scene.
Imagine for a second if I was young and hip (I am not young and hip) and I wanted to start my own garage rock band. I think you would agree that it would make sense for me to check out the local scene, watch a few other bands play in clubs, maybe even buy some stuff by up-and-coming artists. I think that sounds reasonable.
And I wanted to be a painter, it would probably make sense for me to visit some galleries and pay attention to things that are going on at a street level. The simple act of paying attention, the act of caring about something brings other people around. It creates momentum.
Yet in the field of writing, you get these odd situations where you have people who self-publish but who don’t have interest in purchasing self-published books. It just seems wrong. Going back to our analogy, what would you think if I was an aspiring punk rocker who didn’t go to punk rock shows? What would you think if I was a new film maker who was only interested in seeing hit films? I would be missing out a chance to make my own work more relevant.
Finally, on a very basic level, it’s just a fair thing to do.
If I want you to buy my small press book, shouldn’t I (as a writer) be willing to spend a little more time seeking out small press alternatives. I think the answer here is yes.
So if you are a writer, please consider this. Please don’t only buy from the big publishers and their imprints. Consider taking a little extra time to scratch beneath the surface and find those well written small and independent novels. I am working on expanding my list now!